Rhyme of Another Autumn
Pairings~ Merlin/Arthur. Side pairings of Gwen/Lancelot, post-breakup!Arthur/Gwen, very minimally hinted/mentioned Morgana/Morgause, Merlin/Mordred, and more.
Warnings~ Reincarnation/Modern AU, fluff, cursing, some references to homophobia, mild violence, mild smut, S5 spoilers (for y'all who aren't quite there yet ^^")
Disclaimer~ I do not own Merlin in any way, shape, or form. But Arthur most certainly can. X"D
Written for paperlegends' Merlin Big Bang 2013. Many thanks to Robin and Charleigh, my awesome betas. Thanks for putting up with me, guys! I couldn't have done this without you, and it was really great meeting you this year. I love you both. :) Special regards to Abbey, Stephanie/Nari, Cee, Georgie, Nathaniel, and Caitlin, who have all been with me on this since the very beginning, and a big thank you to everyone (especially everyone on here on FF) who's read my fics before since this will, sadly, be my last one! :')
I'd especially like to give my eternal gratitude to my lovely artist Morgan for drawing unimaginably gorgeous art to accompany my fic and for being so nice to me the whole time during this experience. All of her beautiful work can be found on her AO3 via mellowmorgan! Most of all, thanks to the_muppet for being awesome since she made everything possible for this final Big Bang! ^_^
As a final note, I hope you all enjoy! :3 (*This is also posted onAO3 for those of you who wish to read this with embedded pictures or download the fanmix, which can be found on the LJ masterpost! :D)
The time was 8:00 a.m. A calm spring breeze brushed past the flourishing trees of Camelot. The bright golden sun loomed over Grand Albion Station, illuminating the few lingering shadows that were scattered unevenly. The aisles were full of early-morning commuters scrambling to make it to their destinations on time, shoving past one another for the best seats on their respective trains.
A little boy, hidden under a long, blue blanket, held the hand of an elderly man as they got off a passenger car that had just returned from Ealdor. His hair was dark as night and his eyes, still drowsy from an hour and a half's worth of slumber on the train, shimmered in the morning light like the finest sapphires placed under heaven's keep.
His name was Merlin Emrys, and he had just turned 10 years old.
As a boy, Merlin was an only child. He had been pampered and homeschooled by his mother and father. They had been far too overprotective to allow him to interact with other children, so he had never had a real friend in his childhood—aside from Will, his next door neighbour. He had grown up to be quite skinny and frail for his age with a terrible asthma condition, which made Hunith and Balinor Emrys all the more cautious of their one and only son.
For this reason, Merlin had found himself living in a minuscule world, barred from seeing the delights of the great outdoors; so he dreamed of exploring life beyond the walls of his cramped bedroom.
Then one fateful afternoon, a hurricane emerged completely out of nowhere from the shores of Ealdor and ravaged the whole village, including the Emrys home. Most tragically, it took the lives of both Merlin's parents and left the poor boy—only five years old—traumatised and confused.
He'd never meant any harm. He'd always been so kind and gentle, just as his mother had taught him... But never had he been so angry—frustrated that he couldn't have the normal life that other children could. All he had done was raise a finger. A finger, and in a split second, everything was gone before his eyes.
Left with nowhere else to go, he'd been forced to wander aimlessly from alley to alley until the cold morning that Gaius discovered him shivering under an empty cardboard box. Gaius was an old general practitioner who'd been retired from his occupation for seven years.
After he'd felt the child's forehead burning hot with fever and found him alone without a single soul to care for him, the elderly man had taken young Merlin under his wing, tending to the boy as if he were his own.
Since then, Gaius had become a hand for him to hold, a voice to guide him, and someone who would help him find a purpose for his "gifts." Escaping a troubled past of his own, he accompanied Merlin to help him start anew. Later, Gaius made plans to take him somewhere more peaceful and as far from Ealdor as possible. In the end, he'd found the perfect place: a town that was still extremely small, but wider than Ealdor had been.
A town called Camelot.
After a while, the two decided to settle at a bench over by a newspaper stand. Gaius let out a sigh, crouching slightly to fix Merlin's blanket as the young one sat down.
"Alright Merlin, I'll only be gone for a minute to get us something nice to drink," the elder man spoke in a fond tone. "Please don't do anything rash until I get back."
Merlin raised his head to meet his caretaker's gaze, then nodded meekly with a small, happy-go-lucky grin on his face before Gaius left to talk to the woman at the cash register.
"Good morning, madam. Two bottles of water, if you please..."
Merlin fidgeted in his seat, eager blue eyes wandering over his surroundings and watching numerous passengers embark and disembark from the nearby trains. Just as he had always been, Merlin listened obediently when he was asked not to do something that would get him into serious trouble.
However, after five years under the retired physician's care, learning more about the "gifts" fate had chosen to bestow upon him, he had also grown up to be a more energetic—sometimes even reckless—young warlock with an insatiable curiosity greater than all the knowledge in the world put together in one box. This curiosity overcame him in an irresistible urge to explore the other parts of the station, possibly make new friends, and find more things to test his special talents on. He hoped to take a step forward in controlling his powers for a purpose more beneficial to mankind, just as Gaius had told him he should.
Merlin wriggled to his feet and ran off just as the cashier turned around to hand the bottles to his caretaker. Right before the little one was about to pass the newspaper stand, he spotted a family close by and stopped short. They were seated on another bench just a few feet away and waiting for their own train to take them abroad.
Now these weren't the sort of people Merlin had seen back in Ealdor, although they would have seemed to be if they weren't wearing such prim and proper clothing. From how they were all dressed—the women in silk and the men in satin—he could definitely tell this family was excessively wealthy. But of the four, there was only one that completely caught his attention: a blond-haired boy who seemed just about a couple years off from the young warlock, fully clad in red and brown as he stood tall and proud at the edge of the group.
For a moment, Merlin was forced to look down at his own worn-out and tattered clothes before glancing over again at the blonde's probably soft, probably comfortable mini-blazer. The second he decided to raise his gaze though, he found the other boy looking right at him.
Merlin bolted in the opposite direction, as far as his small legs could take him, away from the family's range of sight. He hadn't even realised until he had long passed the newspaper stand that he was standing all alone in a surprisingly vacant area of the train station. Left with nowhere else to turn, his endlessly overflowing curiosity impelled him to wander around just a little more, with Merlin thinking that perhaps, in time, Gaius would find him.
Merlin let out a sigh, observing the intricate architecture of the building before turning to gaze up at the moving clouds through the skylights above. Before long, he found himself staring down at the train tracks, wondering how far it was to get from the platform he was standing on to all the way down there.
It probably wouldn't hurt to climb down and see for himself. After all, he did have his gifts to protect him as needed, so what could possibly go wrong?
The young warlock took a deep breath, glancing contemplatively at the dark tunnel at the other end. The next train might not arrive for a while, so he'd most likely be out of there by then...
After thinking on this for a few minutes, he swallowed hard and finally began to carefully climb down towards the gravel between the tracks. He found himself entranced by his surroundings, taken aback by the way that the whole path looked just like a smaller tunnel, extending out into an even bigger tunnel but ending God knows where.
Merlin's eyes lit up with delight as he shifted to take another step when suddenly a shout from not far away stopped him short:
"You idiot! What in the world do you think you're doing!? Get out of there!"
In a split second, Merlin was broken out of his daydream. Before he could even whip his head around to search for the person in question, he heard a loud shrill sound of a horn and solid wheels scratching against steel and froze.
But just as he turned around with a gaping mouth to face the front of the oncoming metal behemoth, he felt himself being shoved hard to the ground between the two rows of rusted steel.
Merlin squeezed his eyes shut as he heard the blaring sounds from up above, waiting for death to claim him.
Merlin Emrys: the boy who was killed by his own uncontrollable curiosity.
It would be all over the news in a flash, and Gaius would be heartbroken. At least he'd have a chance to see his mother and father again, if God would forgive his recklessness and open the gates of heaven for him. Deep from within, the young warlock wished for everything to just happen—
Hold on a second, Merlin thought. Shouldn't he have already felt the unbearable pain on his small, fragile body by now?
It wasn't long before Merlin noticed that the blaring noise of the train horn had subsided, and that it was deathly silent all around him. He still refused to open his eyes for fear that if he opened them, he would find himself in a dark oblivion where, Will had once told him, the newly deceased waited aimlessly until judgment.
There was a sharp exhale from above him, and Merlin stiffened as he heard a hoarse mutter.
At the sound of the new, distinct voice, Merlin's heart faltered. He slowly opened his eyes, finding himself face to face with the blonde-haired boy from before, his hands flat on either side of Merlin as they firmly pinned the young warlock's wrists against the gravel. At that moment, the older one's countenance seemed so angelic, his eyes sparkling cerulean like a vast ocean and his hair resembling strands of gold under the scintillating sunlight. Their faces were mere inches apart; close enough for Merlin to reach out and touch his hair, and, for an instant, Merlin couldn't breathe.
It was only when the blonde let out an exhausted sigh that Merlin finally brought himself back to reality.
"Stupid."The older boy slowly shook his head then looked straight into the other's eyes.
Merlin let out a small exhale.
The blonde's gaze softened with slight concern as he opened his mouth to speak in a calmer, more careful tone. "Are you alright?"
Merlin swallowed hard and with some effort brought himself to nod once. The other boy moved back a little to allow him enough space to get up.
When Merlin rose to his feet, he was surprised to see so many people watching them from the platform, when what seemed to be only a few minutes ago the area had been so empty. He spotted Gaius in the crowd and half of him instinctively shrank back, ashamed of the trouble and worry he had definitely added to the weight on his poor caretaker's feeble heart.
Before he could think anything more, he felt himself being pulled forward. He turned to see that the boy was guiding him towards the edge of the platform. The two of them climbed out with the help of a few other adults. The very instant Merlin's heels touched solid ground, the boy yanked him out of the crowd, neither child paying any attention to the surrounding spectators who murmured behind their backs and quietly scolded them for endangering their lives.
When they had finally reached a calm spot, Merlin heard the blonde boy heave a long-suffering sigh. Then he turned to look into Merlin's eyes again, this time—the young warlock noticed—with a different, unreadable expression. It almost looked...longing. He was once again broken out of his reverie when the other boy began speaking to him in a soft, genuine tone.
"Don't even think about doing anything like that again," he whispered, his gaze steadfastly fixed on Merlin. "Believe me, there's still so much to live for."
For a moment, Merlin remained silent, contemplating his words with much consideration. He glanced briefly at the blonde but then shyly lowered his eyes, his cheeks flushing a faint pink. He was about to open his mouth to finally reply to him, but another voice, appalled and caustic, interrupted from afar.
Merlin whipped his head around to see the rest of the wealthy family gathered a few feet away from them. The woman and the girl, who he could only assume were the boy's mother and sister, smiled and waved at him, but the father, standing at the front of the group, stared at the two boys with an appalled expression that made Merlin uncomfortable. Merlin turned again to see the frown on Arthur's face as he slowly glanced down to find that they were still holding hands. He quickly let go of Merlin, taking a step away from him.
"Ahem," Arthur coughed, looking down with a sheepish expression as he walked back to his family. Arthur didn't glance back at Merlin once, but he could still see that Arthur's countenance grew more grim with every step he took. Merlin could almost could almost feel the burning rage in the father's eyes.
The family disappeared around the corner, and he was left alone once more. It was as if he didn't know how to think or feel anymore.
He held his breath and turned around to see his old caretaker standing right beside him. Then Merlin was back in the warmth of the other's arms, resting his head on Gaius's shoulder.
Gaius shook his head and sighed. "What in heaven's name were you doing down there, boy? I tell you to stay put for one second, and you go off trying to get yourself killed—"
Before the elderly man could continue any further, he was stopped by Merlin's soft sobs. Gaius sighed again and held him close, placing a reassuring hand on his back. "There, there. You're safe now. That's all that matters."
Merlin would have stopped to smile at him in response, but the tears just kept coming. The blonde's words echoed endlessly in his ears, as they would for days and days to come.
"There's still so much to live for."